CSU overcomes penalties, mistakes to win crucial Mountain West matchup

Steven Jacobs

Colorado State running back Dee Hart bursts through the Utah State secondary during Saturday's 16-13 win over the Aggies at Hughes Stadium.
Colorado State running back Dee Hart bursts through the Utah State secondary during Saturday’s 16-13 win over the Aggies at Hughes Stadium.

It took all sixty minutes of the contest, but Colorado State was able to overcome a season-high number of penalties and sacks allowed as they outlasted the Utah State Aggies in a 16-13 Homecoming win to move to 6-1 on the season.

CSU entered their homecoming matchup on a high after their big road win against Nevada, and they came out on fire in their first drive. The Rams’ very first play from scrimmage was a 69-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins that set up the offense for a 1-yard touchdown scamper by running back Dee Hart to put the Rams up 7-0 just 1:20 into the game.

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The Aggies came out for their first offensive drive and quickly tied the game at 7-7 after a 59-yard touchdown run by Joe Hill right up the middle of the Rams defense. The long run drained some of the excitement from the sold-out Hughes Stadium crowd and reminded CSU that Utah State was on an 11-game conference road winning-streak dating back to 2011.

Aside from the first drive, CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson was under duress all game, especially when Utah’s State’s Vigil brothers chose to blitz him. Grayson did a good job picking up first downs with his legs when he needed to, but the Aggies’ eight sacks on Grayson were the most CSU has allowed this season.

CSU entered the game averaging just 4.5 penalties a game, tied for 13th in the FBS, but against Utah State the Rams committed 11 penalties for 116 yards, a season-high.  That included a false start on the game’s second-to-last play which forced CSU kicker Jared Roberts to kick a 46-yard field goal instead of the original 41-yarder.

“I really felt like the penalties killed us,” head coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s uncharacteristic of who we are and what we are all about. We will get that handled.”

After both CSU and Utah State scored touchdowns in the first quarter, the rest of the game would be a defensive battle that saw both teams exchanging field goals. CSU linebacker Max Morgan opened up the second quarter with an interception on a short pass by Aggies quarterback Darrel Garretson, but the real game-changing defensive play didn’t come until the third quarter.

In the third, CSU linebackers Cory James and Kevin Davis sandwiched Garretson on a long completion early in the third quarter. Although the play resulted in a completed pass for Utah State, they lost Garretson to an arm injury for the rest of the game. With the game tied 10-10 in the third quarter, Utah State now had to put their faith in third-string quarterback Craig Harrison.

Colorado State finished the game without a single sack and only three tackles for loss, but they held the Aggies to just 260 yards of total offense and 24:15 time of possession. In front of the largest home crowd since Oct. 7, 2006, the Rams defense was able to slow the Aggies just enough to give their offense one final chance to win.

With just under a minute left in the game, Grayson and the offense got the ball for one final drive but didn’t seem to want go for the win. Hart, who apparently didn’t get the memo that CSU was playing for overtime, was given the ball and ran 17 yards with it, setting up a diving catch by Rashard Higgins on the next play to put the Rams in field goal position. With three seconds left, CSU called a timeout and Jared Roberts lined up for a game-winning kick.

“I had no doubt,” McElwain said. “There was no doubt in my mind that Kicker would get up and kick it and make it go through the goalposts.”

After two Aggie timeouts and an almost disastrous false start call, Roberts nailed the ball through the uprights as the Rams beat Utah State 16-13 as time expired. The Rams are now 37-32-2 all-time against Utah State and are bowl-eligible just seven games into the season.

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Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_.